Front Loading

I’ve been discussing on Oval Office 2000 quite a bit about states making their Presidential primaries earlier and earlier. I can imagine that the result of all of this state-level front-loading would produce three things, all of which sound good, at least in theory, from a policy perspective, although I’m doubtful that I’ll like them in practice.

Keep in mind that with the war in Iraq being what it is, Republicans are facing the least favorable conditions for a Presidential election since 1976, if not 1932.* It is a measure of Rudy Giuliani’s charisma and the depth of Hillary Clinton’s negatives that he has a fighting chance to win despite this. But let us have no illusions — unless things change in the Persian Gulf region in some objectively obvious way, we’ll know not only who the nominees are going to be, we’ll likely know who the next President will be on February 5, 2008.

So the first practical effect of the very early primary schedule in 2008 is that the next President will have nearly a year to prepare her Administration to will hit the ground running — including giving substantial campaign aid to Democrats in marginal districts, which would leave her with a more heavily-Democratic Congress and lots of legislators in that Congress who are indebted to her, positioning her to be in a very strong position to govern from the get-go. Whether the Second Clinton Administration is able to fly where the Second Bush Administration stumbled will be up to the Second President Clinton. (Not saying I’d like where she flies us to, by the way, only that she would have all the tools necessary to get Congress solidly behind her.)

Second, the whole thing will wind up looking really ridiculous. Particularly for the losing party (likely the Republicans) there will loud calls for national reform of the nomination process from start to finish. I would welcome the prospect of a national primary, or at minimum a series of regional primaries, spaced out over a reasonable length of time and beginning sufficiently late in the political process so that the nominee has a chance to tailor a campaign message for the issues of the day. (As it is, the nominees have to guess, right now, what will be the significant political issues of the day a year from now so that they can attract general election votes.)

Finally, particularly if the Republicans lose, they will have to undergo a substantial process of evaluating what the party is really all about. Social conservatives will blame the economics and military crowd for nominating Giuliani and abandoning the “core principles” of the party; in response the guns-and-butter crowds will tell the social types to stop looking so sanctimonious and hypocritical and alienating three-fourths of American voters. That’s a debate that needs to be had and resolved. If the Republican party is to have a viable future, it needs to be resolved without a schism. (By the way, I haven’t a clue what the Democrats are all about these days, as a whole, other than being “not Republicans”.) The result of the debate should be a renewed commitment to whatever the party is going to be all about.

The general election is still fourteen months away. A lot can happen between now and then. While the current conditions favor Democrats, the idea of the Republicans winning the general election is not only not laughable, but achievable with the right nominee, the right platform, some good news between now and next November, and a smart and aggressive political campaign. What’s interesting is how this election, very differently from the several others that have preceded it, is starting to change the lines of the political battlefield in ways that will change the way national politics is done in the future.

* Money quote from the WaPo: “It’s always darkest right before you get clobbered over the head with a pipe wrench. But then it actually does get darker.”

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

One Comment

  1. Republicans are facing the least favorable conditions for a Presidential election since 1976, if not 1932. Sorry I can’t find the ’76 and ’32 references in the W Post link. Has it changed?

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